I caught the new Star Trek movie this past weekend, Star Trek Beyond. It has what all great modern cinema should have: a villain played by a Brit and lots of ‘splosions! Yea!
All kidding aside, a movie directed by Justin Lin of Fast and Furious fame is going to be a ride. And yet a script co-written by unabashed fan Simon Pegg (Scotty) is going to honor and use what’s already been done. In fact, there is a visual or direct reference to both every Trek series to date and every previous Trek movie, including Star Trek and Into Darkness.
The setup: It’s three years into the Enterprise‘s first five-year mission, and Kirk is starting to feel like he’s in a rut. So is Spock, who is also beginning to question his devotion to Starfleet. What bugs Kirk is a failed diplomatic mission that seems to be the movie’s sole reference to Galaxy Quest (lifting a scene that itself ended with an aborted scene from Star Trek V. It’s Shatner’s revenge against Paramount!) He’s thinking of going ashore. Spock is grieving for the loss of his older self, who had become a mentor to him. Then there is a distress call inside a rather dangerous nebula. Is the Enterprise the only ship in range? No. But it is the best equipped. It’s not enough. At the center of the nebula is a planet with a life form that has a swarming technology that literally tears the Enterprise to pieces. Scotty is on his own. Kirk and Chekov crash together as well, as do Spock and McCoy. Meanwhile, Uhura and Sulu find themselves protecting the captured surviving crew from Krall, a being who believes the Federation’s ideals are a myth. And he wants a weapon the Enterprise was carrying, one that could have been lifted from Nemesis. (Thankfully, Beyond has a better director and fewer pointless flourishes. And a plot. Take that, Stuart Baird.)
It’s a growth movie for just about the entire cast. Sulu shows much more of the commander he’ll become this time, plus is revealed to be a father and married to an unnamed man. Once again, Zoe Saldana imbues Uhura with the same toughness and bravery Nichelle Nichols wanted to give the character. Chris Pine’s Kirk is, while definitely not Shatner’s Kirk, definitely now a peer, more of a leader of men and women than the arrogant, sometimes thoughtless jerk from Into Darkness. And of course, Scotty is almost the central character in this one. It’s Scotty who meets the crew’s new ally, Jaylah, and locates the USS Franklin, a ship identical to the titular ship from Star Trek: Enterprise. What really shines among the crew, though, is the interplay between Zachary Quinto and Karl Urban as Spock and McCoy. McCoy, usually Kirk’s conscience, becomes Spock’s this time, mainly because they are stranded together.
Props have to be given for the movie’s most poignant feature, the prominent role of Anton Yelchin’s Chekov as he and Kirk try to recover the crew and get off the planet. Yelchin died only a couple of weeks ago, and the penultimate scene has him walking off screen in classic Chekov mode, trying to convince a lovely young woman that Scotch was “invented by a little old lady in Russia.” Whether the character is recast or retired, we’re going to miss Yelchin in future movies. (The sequel has already been announced.)
But Idris Elba is a star in his own right in this one. As Krall, we know nothing of where he’s from or who he is or even if this is his native world. He goes on and on about the mission. Krall has a cold-blooded willingness to kill Enterprise crew to demonstrate his weapon or, in a bit of a Dracula-like scene, use as an energy source. His cause has some disturbing parallels to ISIS and Al Qaeda in his zeal to lash out at the Federation. There is a punchline to it at the end, but I can’t really say what makes Krall so tragic without spoiling the movie. Suffice it to say, the Federation has built its own monster.
Similarly, Sofia Boutella is awesome as Jaylah, a former captive of Krall’s who originally found the USS Franklin and discovered, among other things, that one of its crew from a century before liked rap music. Or, as she calls it, “shouts and beats.” She, too, is on a mission and doesn’t care about the Federation. She only knows she needs the ship to get off the ground and has found hope in Scotty and, eventually, Kirk and Chekov.
Beyond gets a little murky in places and is slow to get started, but it’s about as Star Trek as one can get. Instead of trying to remake one of the older movies, Pegg and cowriter Doug Jung have opted to hitch this movie’s star to the underappreciated Star Trek: Enterprise, including video of the ship’s long-dead crew in uniform from the series and events in the show directly impacting the events in the movie. I would not rank it above any of the Meyer/Nimoy movies or First Contact, but it hovers just outside that group, better than the episode-like TNG movies, lacking the ponderousness of The Motion Picture and the silliness of The Final Frontier, and definitely not the franchise killing Nemesis. It’s a movie for the theater and for surround-sound and popcorn, but one with the heart of the original series and a love for all that has come since.